“People need the home they live in to take care of them” Michael Reynolds (the ’garbage warrior’, creator of Earth ships). Of course, this is what shelters are for, are they not? And yet, for so many in the modern world, houses are only a financial commodity, often in excess to their actual living needs, inefficient, poorly designed & made from all manner of energy intensive & toxic materials. 

Below left: back to basics, Steph rendering with cob (subsoil & hemp hurd) onto bamboo screen. Below right: finished with Rockcote’s clay plaster & Rockcote’s finecoat clay plaster (white layer at bottom left of picture).

making cob

clay render








 No place like home: The most basic function of a house is shelter from the elements, a means of keeping dry from the rain, shaded from the sun & protection from wind and fluctuations of temperature. The local environment (climate & specific site conditions) should largely determine materials, layout design & building style. The placement of a building within the landscape is important too, minimising extreme exposure although allowing for natural ventilation & lighting. Surrounding vegetation can be used to modify local conditions. In my own experience, starting with an unbearably hot, bare paddock, after 3-4 years of planting trees, the house temperature became more moderate & now, after nearly 20 years of growth, the house remains cool in summer & barely a breeze blows through when distant trees are lashed by gale-force thunderstorms. Building (& planting) over a long period of time has allowed us to observe the change of sun angle over the seasons. Although shaded from the hot western sun in summer by deciduous trees, in winter the low morning sun stretches across 6m of veranda to warm the kitchen. Hence the garden is an extension of the home, acting as a buffer zone to the wider world.

Put a hat on: Durable roofing materials are perhaps the most convenient of modern building developments, although the pay-off is that they are also energy & resource intensive (iron sheeting, concrete, glazed fired ceramic tiles). Given that roofing is the most important function of a house, this investment is perhaps necessary & one should endeavour to ensure that whatever materials are used require minimal maintenance & have long life. Rooves made from component parts like tiles & corrugated iron can have damaged parts replaced. Extending the roof line with eaves or the ubiquitous Australian veranda also protects external walls from sun & rain damage, as well as aiding temperature control internally (stays cooler in summer). In my experience with building a ‘Queenslander” style home in sub-tropic northern NSW over a 10 year period, each additional veranda added created several degrees reduction in temperature in summer.

Not only does a roof keep water out, it is also an impervious  layer that can be used to catch rain water (for drinking, washing or irrigation- depending on the air/water quality). Pathways, roads & kerbside gutters are likewise existing water channels that should be used for catchment in the dry as well as drainage when excessively wet. Efficient design is obtaining multiple functions from each element.     

solar tubelights

Energy efficiency: Use no more than you need!    Left: Solar light tubes installed in the Rainbow Cafe. While designing & building a house from scratch is not possible for most people, there are many modifications that can be used to minimize energy use. As well as low wattage lights, skylights & reflective surfaces take advantage of natural light, reducing lighting costs. Most  appliances now have comparative energy ratings- & yes, turning appliances off at the wall when not in use DOES make a difference.  Heating costs can be reduced with insulation, covering windows with heavy drapes & using door stoppers to prevent drafts & of course, an extra layer of clothing uses far less energy than the heater!  (Artificial heating & cooling may well interfere with our body’s natural seasonal adjustment & temperature regulation, leading to an increase in colds & flu. Do yourself a favour & toughen up!) In summer, make use of natural airflow (of pre-cooled air from shade trees & verandas) by opening windows & doors. Wear a wet scarf or shawl for personal evaporative air conditioning on those scorching days- you won’t believe how well it works!

byron green building centre I worked for Deb at Painted Earth Eco-friendly Paints & Finishes in Byron Bay for 2 years & can vouch for her utmost integrity & dedication to finding environmentally responsible solutions for our homes. Now she & new business partner Dave have expanded their services to include all aspects of green building- the most all inclusive business of its kind in Australia! 

hemp building another first for the region. Clara has done the research to make zero THC hemp an (approved) viable alternative building material our local compost toilet & waste water expert

natural homes gallery Inspirational pics from around the globe


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